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Thank you very much.
I think that you have already seen the outcome of this Foreign Affairs Council, so we will follow the example of the last [Foreign Affairs] Councils and I will be very short in my introduction to let you have more time for the questions.
To tell you the truth, when I was coming in this morning I was not expecting necessarily to have conclusions on the first two points that we had on the agenda today, namely Syria and the Turkish drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. This could have been possible, but it could have also been useful if it had just been in preparation of the European Council that takes place later this week.
After long discussions and work with the [Foreign] Ministers – and I want to thank them all because they showed a lot of commitment to finding a common European Union approach to both issues, that are separate but somehow connected in some respect – we have managed to find consensus. We have a common united European Union position, first of all, on the developments in the north-east of Syria. I imagine you have seen the Council conclusions already, so you have seen that there is a clear condemnation from the European Union’s side of Turkey’s military action in the north-east of Syria. There is strong support for the UN mediated political process and I am grateful to the UN Special Envoy, [Geir] Pedersen for joining us this morning and briefing us on the state of play, the perspectives and also the difficulties to restart of the political process under his auspices in Geneva. I want to say very clearly that there is a strong support from our side, in the first place, to the beginning of the work of the Constitutional Committee. We believe that the fact that he has managed to find an agreement for the first time ever on the Constitutional Committee is very important. We definitely want to see the Committee starting to work in Geneva and we are ready to support it.
There is also a common, clear position of the European Union and its Member States on our support and our common commitment to the Global Coalition against Da’esh. You might have seen in the conclusions that we call for a ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition, because we see the fact that Da’esh could re-find its breathing space inside this territory as one of the most immediate consequences of these military activities in the north-east of Syria and that worries us enormously. It is a direct security threat to the European Union, but not only to the European Union, first and foremost to the region and the international community. We want to see this tackled in the Global Coalition format.
And there is obviously also our strong commitment, as usual, to the stability of the region. Let me say that in particular any attempt to have any kind of demographic engineering in that region would be seen from our side as particularly dangerous.
There is also the commitment that Member States have taken to have clear and strong national positions regarding their arms exports policy to Turkey. We have a common position on arms exports control and they all committed to apply that framework to their exports of arms to Turkey.
And obviously we reaffirmed our commitment in terms of addressing the serious humanitarian and refugee crisis in light of the evolving needs. I was able to debrief the Ministers also on the call that I had with [UN] Under-Secretary-General [for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark] Lowcock, who was in Gaziantep in the recent days, and I reconfirmed our strong determination to support in particular the countries in the region that are facing important consequences from the humanitarian and refugee crisis.
When it comes to the Council conclusions on the illegal drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, there is a clear recalling of the conclusions we have already adopted in July and in particular the need to address the limitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone and the continental shelf through dialogue and negotiations in good faith, in full respect of the international law and in accordance with the principle of good neighbourly relations. And there is the agreement among all Member States to put in place a framework regime of restrictive measures targeting natural and legal persons responsible for or involved in the illegal drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. So I will present, together with the European Commission, the legal proposals to this effect in the coming days.
Let me add that we had another important point on the agenda today: we welcomed the new Foreign Minister of Ukraine [Vadym Prystaiko]. We received from him a very comprehensive and satisfactory picture of the plans that the government and the administration have on the reform agenda of the country, but also on how to address the conflict in the east of Ukraine. We have seen some positive developments; we are very much willing to support them and we reconfirmed to him - and through him to all the Ukrainian people - the European Union’s strong determination to support Ukraine, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, our non-recognition policy of the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol and, equally as important, our determination to continue to fully support Ukraine’s reform agenda. As you know, the European Union has put in place for Ukraine the highest amount of EU assistance to any third country. We are talking about over €15 billion over the last [five] years. We have a very ambitious [EU-Ukraine] Association Agreement and a visa-free regime in place. We are determined to continue to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in these times.
Due to the fact that discussion on the north-east of Syria and on the drillings took longer than expected, we will postpone the point that was foreseen on Afghanistan to the next Foreign Affairs Council in November. I will stop here.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-178848
Do you have any concrete timeframe on when you are going to propose these restrictive measures regarding Turkey’s illegal drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean to the Council? Should we expect something to be adopted already at the leaders’ meeting [European Council] this week?
I cannot give you details about the timing; also because it depends on the technical preparation that is now required for our services to put in place the legal provisions that would be then proposed to the Council working groups. But the political decision is taken today and I think this is the main message that comes from the Council on the drillings. The political decision is taken today, the 28 Member States agreed to put in place the framework of restrictive measures and now the technical steps will follow.
You said that the Foreign Ministers were united on the two conclusions. What do you say to the fact that the Hungarian Foreign Minister [Péter Szijjártó] decided to go to a meeting in Baku along with Turkey to discuss about business? Does this not undermine the message of unity that you want to send?
Every Member State is responsible for the consistency of its policy positions. Here, a unanimous decision was taken and no Member State opposed to that. On the contrary, each and every Member State - each of the 28 - contributed actively to the wording of the conclusions, both of them, none excluded. There is, as I said, unanimity and full consensus on these two sets of conclusions. Then it is up to the single Ministers or Member States to guarantee their internal cohesion and consistency of their policies.
You mentioned the EU calls for a ministerial meeting of the anti-ISIS coalition. My understanding is the French have been calling for this for days. Why has this not happened? Is it fundamentally because Washington is not keen to press Turkey to end an offensive that it seems to have greenlighted?
It is not for the European Union nor for any of our Member States to convene the ministerial meeting. As you know, it is a Global Coalition that is led by the United States. You should ask them and not me why it has not been convened yet, but it is a general feeling of all the EU Member States that this is the appropriate format that needs to convene to address one specific issue that is extremely serious for all of us in Europe but also, I believe internationally: how to make sure that the current military activities in the north-east Syria do not open up the space for Da’esh to have a sort of resurrection. Because Da’esh has never been completely defeated. It has been significantly defeated from a territorial point of view, but we have always warned - warned ourselves first of all, but also others in the Global Coalition against Da’esh - that this defeat was still to be consolidated, not only on the ground but also on the political environment that could have been again conducive for Da’esh to regather forces.
And we have a very serious concern about the fact that this military activity that Turkey is undertaking in the north-east Syria is reopening the way for Da’esh to re-build its territorial gains and also to recruit not only foreign fighters but also the local forces that it used to have in the north-east Syria. There is a serious concern that is a security priority for Europeans. And the Global Coalition against Da’esh has been effective in these last years under US leadership to achieve a lot in terms of defeating Da’esh. And this is relevant not only for Europeans, it is relevant for Syrians, obviously, and it is relevant for Iraqis.
I spoke to the Iraqi President [Barham Salih] just a few days ago and we agreed on how relevant and important it is to consolidate the gains we had in the fight against Da’esh and to focus - I said it already in the debate in the European Parliament last Wednesday - on our common fight against the UN-listed terrorist organisations. This is something that unites us and has always united us so far. I believe, we believe, that it is important to have that discussion in the anti-Da’esh coalition.
Will you ask the US to convene an anti-Da’esh ministerial meeting?
We are doing that today in a very formal way. We will see what the answer will be.
When you came into office those very long five years ago, I remember one of your key goals was to rejuvenate the EU-Turkey relationship. Very early on there was a big EU mission to Turkey about getting the relationship going again. What went wrong?
We have here today two sets of conclusions, two formal positions of the European Union that are important ones: one on the drilling activities of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean and one on the Turkish military activities in the north-east of Syria. These are heavy conclusions and I believe that they will not go unnoticed, not only in Ankara but also elsewhere.
Having said that - and I tell you this not only on a personal note but also reflecting the general feeling of the EU Member States -, the situation in Syria and the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean does not cover all of the fields on which our relationship with Turkey is important. There are other issues, from people-to-people contacts, to energy, or common work that we could do in other areas. We have always tried to build constructive partnerships with Turkey. Sometimes it has worked sometimes it has not worked.
We have lived dramatic moments - Turkey has lived dramatic moments in July 2016 with the dramatic attempted coup – and we should never forget that. We expressed our strongest solidarity to the institutions and the people of Turkey. It is not a kind of relationship that you can define as black and white. It is a complex, multilayered, dimensional partnership. I believe that when the European Union and Turkey manage to be extremely clear on what we agree upon and what we do not agree upon, this helps us also addressing other issues in a clearer way and a more direct way. I think we need - as neighbours who share the same geographical space - to be clear with each other, knowing that we share a lot of common interests, starting from the security of the region. But we also have some disagreements.
Again, no mystery that Turkey considers as terrorist organisations some organisations that the European Union does not consider terrorist organisations. This has always been a point of difference between us. This does not mean that we cannot agree on other things. But this does not mean that we have to hide the fact that we disagree on something. I think that today we have done a good exercise of clarity from our side that might help us to also be clear on other issues that might be more positive in the future.
Concerning the freezing of weapon exports to Turkey: Why is it not an official embargo? Have all Member States signed that commitment to freeze arms exports, as the conclusions were a bit vague about it?
No,they were not vague, they are very clear, I think. There is a clear commitment from Member States - and when we say Member States we mean all Member States - that commit to strong, national positions regarding their arms export policy to Turkey on the basis of the provisions of the Common Position on arms export control.
This means that there is, yes, a halt in the export policies. The reason why this is not happening through the formal establishment of an arms embargo that goes through the working groups and decision-making, is on one side that this mechanism allows for a more immediate decision-making that can be taken at national level and can be supervised and coordinated at European Union level. It is faster in its implementation. But also, if you look at the list of countries on which the European Union has a formal European Union arms embargo restrictive framework, you will find mainly countries for which an arms embargo is foreseen by the UN Security Council resolutions, and this is not the case here. In most cases the European Union sanction policy implements UN Security Council resolutions. Not always and not exclusively, but in most cases and in particular when it comes to arms embargoes. Think of Libya, where we are implementing a UN Security Council resolution.
You will find a certain number of countries that are definitely in a different situation than a NATO ally is. Again, this is a question more for NATO than for me, but as we have so many EU Member States that are also NATO allies and as there are some provisions amongst NATO allies when it comes to the technicalities of exporting arms, we do not want Member States that are also NATO allies to be in a complicated legal position when it comes to enforcing a European Union framework of a formally adopted arms embargo. This formula – it is a bit technical, but I guess you get the nuances – allows every country, every EU Member State, to abide by the Common Position that is the European Union Common Position on arms embargo, having the same effect than an arms embargo but without putting into question their belonging to the NATO alliance, in case they are members of the NATO alliance.
Do you think it is too late to take any action from the European Union side since yesterday, when the Kurdish authorities made a deal with Russia and Syria?
I think it is never too late to do the right thing and I definitely cannot respond for the US policy on their allies on the ground in north-east Syria. This is something you should ask those that have been fighting on the ground, starting with the US troops that are now being withdrawn.
I think I repeated several times in this room and in Brussels: the European Union as such has never been a military player in Syria for a specific reason. We have always believed that there is even too many armies in Syria. We believe the way forward is and should be a political process and not the arms and the armies that are fighting in that territory.
I have seen that some have mentioned the fact that the European Union is in these days not able to stop the Turkish military activities in north-east Syria, because we do not have an army. Our Member States do have armies but they are not in the territory of Syria, which means that the reason why we do not have military presence there is because we have always believed that the way forward is not fighting on the ground, but to support the UN mediation process and to find a way out of the Syrian conflict through diplomacy and in particular through the full implementation of UN resolution 2254.
Having said that, the war against Da’aesh has happened on the ground, has happened including with our support from the European Union to all the forces that have been fighting Da’esh on the ground, including the Kurdish forces, consistently and all over these years. This support has never been taken away from the European Union’s side. I remember I personally have had long hours of discussion with my Turkish counterparts about that. The European Union has always been consistent on this.
One of the consequences that we have warned against before the military intervention in north-east Syria from the Turkish side had started, was exactly that this would have pushed the Kurdish forces in the hands of the Assad regime and the Russians. This is something that definitely we did not want to see. Because we believe that one thing is the fight against Da’aesh, the other thing is finding a political solution to the conflict in Syria that will have to include some elements of accountability for the crimes that have been committed by the Syrian regime against its own people.
The level of complexity of different problems that will have to be solved now increases. I believe that this would be the moment for other global powers to sit together and see how they can put an end to this. Because I believe that regardless of our differences, we all share one common goal and that is putting an end finally to the war in Syria.
We know what the way forward is to that. It is written in the UN Security Council resolution 2254. We started to work on this, some years back. I believe that this would be the right moment to restart working on that. But, again, it is clear that the situation on the ground and raising tensions among the regional powers and the global powers is not conducive to that. But this is the European position. We believe that this would be the wise thing to do.
The coming back of the Syrian regime forces to the border between Syria and Turkey - do you see it a factor of stabilisation or a helpful factor in the fight against Da’esh? Is there any move, after the discussion today, that the European Union Member States may decide to bring back their foreign fighters?
This is not an issue we discussed today with the with the Ministers. In fact, you do not see this reflected in the Council Conclusions. This is an issue that we discussed in recent months. It is not necessarily a competence of the Foreign Ministers. You know that different Member States have different legal frameworks for addressing this issue of the foreign fighters. It is mainly a mix of competences between Foreign Ministers, Defence Ministers, Interior Ministers, Justice and Home Affairs Ministers . In some cases even Social Affairs, because when you have minors, this is an issue of social protection. On this, the competence is a Member State competence. I have always offered Member States support if they want some coordinating space for addressing this. But, again, this is not something we have discussed today.
What about the NATO membership of many Member States and the extent to which that has inhibited decision making today? Because it is clear for example that the use of the word “condemn” was problematic probably because of wanting to show difference to a fellow NATO member. It is clear that there are problems with the embargo, because of NATO obligations of Member States. I understand that one Minister raised the possibility of having to consider in the future Article 5 commitments by NATO Members should for example the state of Turkey come under attack from Syria. It must be the first time the membership of NATO has actually become problematic in a way for EU decision making?
I would not say that this has been problematic for the EU’s decision-making. I guess the situation might be problematic for NATO. But this is something you have to ask NATO. It does not have an impact on the EU decision-making. In fact, we have a common position today. But I guess that, yes, it might be quite complicated for NATO to handle a situation like this. It is not for the European Union.
Do you think that a weapons embargo is enough to stop Turkey? What about an economic embargo? Do you think the next step will be economic sanctions? I think you have seen that the military operation by Turkey is killing a lot of civilians. The Kurds say they do not have any option and have to cooperate with Assad, the situation is very difficult for the Kurds. What can the EU do and what does the EU need to do now to stop Turkey?
You often say the European Union does not speak with one voice. This time we spoke with one voice, exactly when it was needed – Tuesday, Wednesday, even Monday. I was in Jordan when the news came. We spoke united with one voice with very clear messages and we asked from the very beginning to Turkey, first of all not to start a military action in the north-east Syria, and then to stop it. In this case, we had one clear united voice, as many others in the world.
This did not stop the Turkish military activity. Now we are taking a further step. In one sense I am glad that in this occasion the European Union and the Member States were not only able to speak with one voice, but also to act in unison, and we take a further step. Will that be enough? We will see. What will be decided if that is not enough, it is something that we will discuss afterwards.
The European Council will have a meeting later this week. I imagine that they will endorse our decisions today and, obviously, see how the situation develops on the ground. Further steps can always be taken in one sense or another.
But I get the profound sense of your question, that is also an element of frustration I believe not only for me but for many around the world: What can be effective in stopping this military operation? This is the one million dollars question. What we can try to do is again to use all our means to try and put pressure, making clear that this is not a way for us to enter into a conflict zone with Turkey.
We also state in the conclusions that we consider Turkey as a partner, as an important partner, but we believe that what it is doing is wrong in this case. Will that be enough to stop the military action? We will see, but I think that the Turkish authorities will need to consider the fact that all their interlocutors, friends, and allies in the world are asking them to stop.
On the conclusions on Syria and the arms embargo, I just want to be absolutely clear on the effect of what has been agreed today. You said earlier that the formula allows every Member State to abide by the common EU position, and then you said this has the same effect as an arms embargo but obviously, an arms embargo would oblige countries to halt their arms exports. So does today's conclusions oblige Member States to stop their arms export or does it only enable them and are they free to continue as they see fit?
Member States are always allowed to comply with common positions of the European Union. What they have done today is they have committed to do it. And these are Council conclusions, so it is a formal European Union document they have all subscribed to, they have all shaped. It is their own wording that we have shaped together with long discussions and preparation and also a lot of legal work behind that.
Are they obliged to do it?
The commitment is there. As with any formal framework, for instance restrictive measures framework, Member States are committed to implement it, then it is their national legal responsibility to do it. The framework is exactly the same. We have a common framework that is the Common Position of the European Union and the commitment of Member States to abide to implement this Common Position on a national level.
Some of them even have more advanced national legislation, some others will need to work on it. And the important thing to me is that we will gather the relevant Council working group already in the next couple of days to have a common monitoring of where different Member States stand in this commitment and the implementation of this commitment that they have taken today.
Sur les forages, allez-vous proposer un cadre vide ou y a-t-il déjà des noms de personnes ou d’entreprises qui participent au forage qui vont être listés ? Si c’est un cadre vide, que faut-t-il pour qu’il y ait des noms ? Est-ce que l’on attend des étapes supplémentaires de la Turquie pour que des noms soient inscrits ?
On the drillings, to recall a bit the history, in May and June we already addressed the situation. In the European Council at the end of June I was asked, together with the Commission, to present options on possible targeted measures.
We presented these options in the beginning of July, on 9 July. On 15 July the Foreign Affairs Council adopted conclusions, asking us to continue working on these options. We have done so over the summer and I want to thank not only our technical teams, but also all the Member States and in particular the authorities of Cyprus with whom I have constantly been in contact in these months to monitor the situation very closely.
And then today what the Ministers, what the Council has done is the political decision that is taken to establish the framework. Now what will happen in the coming days will be, as I explained, the adoption of the necessary legal acts to put this legal framework in place.
And then obviously, as anytime that we have a framework for targeted measures or restrictive measures in place, the filling in of the framework, the names of natural and legal persons will have to be based on concrete suggestions that would normally come from Member States with solid legal basis. And so the filling in of the framework will depend on what kind of proposals will be done at that stage, but the agreement, the decision to put in place the framework regime of restrictive measures has been taken today.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-178849